Sunday, March 10, 2013


A friend sent along an essay she had written, a three-part article about "Lessons in Humility." Part II, the only part I got, began, "Lessons in humility ought to be learned from disasters, especially those that involve the possibility or certainty of killing us." This was followed by a series of example of the disasters the universe is capable of delivering ... earthquakes, solar flares and the like.

The premise that anything "ought to be learned" aroused my skepticism, but the notion of "humility" tickled my mind.

In some circles, "humility" seems to be viewed as a good thing that requires and effort to thwart some more self-serving and pleasant activity.... sort of like swallowing Castor oil -- it tastes yucky, but promises beneficial results. And, if you don't take your medicine, life is likely to hit you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

An Internet dictionary defines "humility" as
a way of behaving that shows that you do not think that you are better or more important than other people
It is hard not to read that definition as meaning that in general, and left to their own devices, individuals DO think they are better and more important than others. And if everybody were to think they were better and more important, it would be a social catastrophe, filled with thievery and war.

Ergo ... be humble and things will be somewhat nicer, kinder and more socially-lubricated. "Lessons in humility ought to be learned ...." because the alternative is too painful... a bit like the Christian habit of threatening its adherents with the fires of hell.

And there's no denying that restraint can mitigate painful results. But as far as I can see, if this is the case, then whatever it is that "humility" means, it is relegated to waiting for or eluding the next disaster in order to find any meaning... constantly on the lookout for life's painful reminders, always on edge, always trying, always improving and never at ease with things as they are.

Is that all there is to humility? Maybe so, but it strikes me as somehow shoddy and facile and, into the bargain, doesn't work very well. Constantly relying on something or someone else as a means of shoring up your own battlements ... how well does that actually work? And if anyone were shoring up their own battlements, how could that not imply that those battlements were intended to protect that which was "better or more important?"

OK, my suspicious little mind doubts the easy definitions of humility. It can suspect what is not ... which poses the question, if you know what it's not, then get off your ass and say what it is.

And the answer is, I really don't know, but somehow I think humility requires something more than social graces. It partakes of a willingness to simply be who you are while keeping an eye on the tendency to think that because you are who you are, others are required to credit it as well. Man, woman, boy, girl, tall, short, smart, dumb, nasty, nice, loving, angry, old, young, right, wrong, speech, silence, ascents into heaven, descents into hell, activism, passivity, wonders and disasters ... sure, there are characteristics. The daisy in the backyard has petals and stem and leaves ... and yet its daisy-ness cannot be parsed. If daisies laughed, I can imagine their laughing at the notion that they were somehow "humble."

I think maybe being humble just means to be happy... the center of the universe that has no center.

But that's just one possibility.

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